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REPORT: TROJAN’S TREK SOUTH AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 2020

INTRODUCTION

1. Trojan’s Trek in South Australia (SA) was conducted on Moolooloo Station in the North Flinders Ranges from 13 to 18 September 2020.  This was the twelfth year treks have been conducted in SA.  The remote location supports one of the key elements of success of the program, a peaceful setting in an ancient land, free from electronic, mental, and physical distractions. This significantly increases the impact of the messages delivered.

2. Due to the devastating fires over the summer which had impacted many individuals; firefighters and first responders were encouraged to attend through publicity and open information sessions on Kangaroo Island.  This was a change in approach to the normal practice when first responders are taken more by exception. Twelve males, all from SA, attended.  Of the total, six firefighters, one police officer, and five ex-military made up the contingent.  The average age of the group was 40 with three being under 30.  This was a lower average age than usual and is seen as an advantage as younger participants appear to embrace new concepts willingly.  Participant comments and journals from the trek provide an early indication of significant positive shifts in thinking which occurred as a result of the program.  The three-month Independent analysis following the trek has not yet been completed.

AIM

3. The aim of Trojan’s Trek is to provide a setting and conditions under which participants experience a lasting, and positive shift in personal values and interpersonal relationships.

OBJECTIVES

4. The objectives of the trek are to assist the participants through group and individual challenge, achieve the following:

a. an understanding of how thoughts and feelings influence behaviour,
b. exposure to various strategies that will bring about positive change,
c. individual responses that are effective in achieving goals,
d. improve interpersonal relationships, and
e. enhance self-esteem.

VALIDATION

5. Four standard psychometric instruments are administered to qua

ntitatively evaluate the trek outcomes.   These are:

a. Life Satisfaction Scale (HILDA) for comparison with Australian normative data,
b. Positive and Negative Interactions,
c. General Perceived Self Efficacy Scale, and
d. DASS 21.

Qualitative evaluations are also measured through the entries in daily journals which are completed by the participants.

6. Since commencement in 2009 each trek has been independently evaluated.  This trek will also be evaluated using data collected at before, after, and at the 2/3 months point.

COVID 19

7. Because of the complications caused by COVID 19, only one staff member from interstate (QLD) attended.  This was manageable and the staff requirement was covered by SA based members.  A COVID Marshall was briefed and appointed for the trek.  He fulfilled the requirements and ensured that where appropriate, practices met the medical advice.  The most onerous task was the contact point cleaning when changes to the vehicle passenger lists were necessary.  Other changes were implemented with meal serving and delivery but no issues were too difficult to resolve.

PROGRAM DELIVERY

8.  Success of the trek is built on the credibility and impact of the messages delivered by facilitators.  During this trek, three experienced facilitators were employed to deliver the fourteen formal sessions. Three mentors were also used to reinforce the messages.
Moonbeam's RestWhen not engaged in delivery, the staff were utilised as mentors to the participants around the campfire and during 4WD vehicle movement. This interaction of staff with small groups of participants assists in building trust and reinforcing messages. The trek utilised local and interstate staff to achieve a blend of skills

and experience. All staff departed Adelaide for Moolooloo a day in advance of the participants. This provided additional opportunities for staff briefing and to consolidate content.  Three participants from trek 2018 were utilised as mentors. The total number attending including base staff was 25.  Only one member required accommodation at Keswick Barracks on the night before departure.  This location is economical and safe for vehicle parking.

9. The total attending was 25 as follows:

10. The observer attended to understand and record the trek at first hand. He is employed under the DVA Community Grants scheme to study the program generally with a view to introducing additional sessions, particularly as they relate to delivery and the impact on partners.

LOCATION

11. The trek is supported from a base established at the shearers’ quarters on Moolooloo which is 36 km northeast of Parachilna on the Glass Gorge Road. The station occupies 1400 square kilometres of country which varies in type and relief from east to west. The distance to the area of the trek is approximately 520 km from Adelaide. Travelling these distances is time-consuming and expensive in fuel, but the advantages in having no mobile telephone, television or radio reception more than offsets the disadvantages of travel. A trip of this duration also permits the participants to get to know each other en-route. The feedback from the participants on the travel and location is positive.

MEDICAL SUPPORT

12. The nearest fully equipped hospital was at Hawker, approximately 1.5 hours away. A satellite phone was on hand if the RFDS or medical advice was required. First-line medical support was provided by a paramedic based with the team. First aid kits were also available and a number of the staff were qualified St John, Apply First Aid. An AED which was purchased as the result of a successful grant application added to the medical capability. In terms of risk management, the longest exposure to the most serious risk was assessed as traffic accidents during the trip to and from Moolooloo. No medical issues arose.

EQUIPMENT AND VEHICLES

13. All equipment was satisfactory except for 8 of the cheaper folding chairs which have never been robust enough for the bush. As a result of a call on return, I was informed that they will be replaced by new stronger versions to be donated by one of the firefighters. Six vehicles were hired from Complete Ute and Van at 50% discount and a 200 series Landcruiser and Hilux were loaned to the Foundation by Pioneer Tanks. This represents a saving of $5,200 in hiring costs.

14. A self-drive hire bus driven by two volunteers transported the team to Moolooloo Station on Sunday. At the conclusion of the trek, staff and participants returned to Adelaide in the 4WD vehicles.

15. During the trek, the 4WD vehicles were used to travel between locations. This is in alignment with the program logic which utilises the small group environment of the vehicles to prompt further discussions and reflections on issues as they surface following the sessions. This has been found to be so successful that staff refers to this practice as mobile consulting rooms. It also affords the chance to mix different individuals and staff with an aim to maximize exposure to others’ views. This has proved to be beneficial; many of the trekkers have remarked on the advantages of spending time in the company of a few individuals as opposed to a larger group.

WEATHER

16. The weather was optimal for trek delivery with no temperature extremes apart from a cool 5-degree morning. The North Flinders Ranges was experiencing a period without recent rain, so the creek beds were dry and the roads and tracks relatively stable. Some creeks showed the effects of 25 mm of rain in March which changed the landscape and creek lines in places. 4WD travel between locations was comfortable.

COMMUNICATIONS

17. Telephone. Mobile telephone coverage in the area is patchy or non-existent with the nearest service at Parachilna and Blinman. Fixed-line communications were available through a link established at the shearers’ quarters but on this occasion, it did not operate. A satellite telephone was available in the bush if an emergency arose. It was not required.

18. Radio. While in the bush UHF CB hand-held and vehicle-mounted radios were used for communications on simplex. Duplex on Channel 3 was available in the area for contact at greater distances by UHF.

PROGRAMME

19. The program is reviewed regularly to ensure relevant content. The messages conveyed during the trek are related to relationships and understanding cognitive strategies for behavior management. A selection of topics including How the Brain Works, Leaving a Legacy, Victim to Warrior, Communications were delivered. The style and method of delivery, combined with the surroundings, make the messages much more powerful. This is further enhanced by the group sharing personal experiences. The daily journals also provide useful insight into the power of the program and how the content is being understood by participants. The simple benefit gained from reconnecting with other sufferers cannot be overstated. This is in accordance with the philosophy of the trek which is based on shared first-hand experience.

Dogs at Pendulum Wall

20. Two new mentors were given the opportunity to continue to develop their skills assisted by experienced facilitators. This is essential for staff succession planning.

21. All facilitators are selected from past participants. These are normally individuals who found the trek so powerful they decided to take the opportunity to assist in program delivery. Those who have accepted this responsibility describe their continuing gains from attendance by assisting in the transformation of the lives of others.

22. The tenor of the week is relaxed yet highly focused on outcomes. This comes as a surprise to most of the participants whose expectations are for a course run along military lines. This is the antithesis of the program.

23. The inclusion of staff other than ex-military provides a balance and different skill sets. Sessions linked to this expertise provide advice and encouragement in a form that is perceived differently to that presented by the veterans.

JOURNALS

24. The use of a period set aside daily to complete individual journals has proved to be an important element for participants. The journals are used to record personal reflections on the various lessons of the day and the daily experience of the trek. This practice provides an opportunity to review and anchor the day’s lessons.

25. Past trekkers have commented on the usefulness of this record of reflections as a reminder of the strategies and tools to use after the trek. With consent, the journals are de-identified and used to provide qualitative data to supplement the quantitative psychometric evaluation of the program.

PARTNERS

26. A Partner’s Handbook was posted to each partner during the trek. It is designed to deliver three key outcomes;

a. provide information regarding the trek and its intent,
b. provide the partners with some of the ideas and tools that the trekkers will be exposed to, and
c. encourage support for what may be new ideas and behaviours.

STAFF DEBRIEF

27. A staff debrief was conducted at the conclusion of the trek to capture immediate feedback and comment. The comments will be reviewed by the Operations Director.

PROGRAMME VIABILITY

28. The Trojan’s Trek program is demand-driven; that is, individuals approach the points of contact indicating a will to attend. This has worked well in SA where male numbers remain reasonably high but are diminishing. However, with the experience of this trek, the inclusion of first responders added to the vast pool of experiences and the younger age of the participants was beneficial. The inclusion of first responders is worthy of discussion. In any case to ensure that the program remains viable and continues to provide support to veterans it is necessary to:

a. continue to advertise the program, targeting those who need our support,
b. focus on those establishments which are central to the clinical treatment,
c. convince the Department of Veterans’ Affairs of the benefits offered, and
d. ensure funding is available to offer the program at no cost to participants.

VISITORS AND MEDIA

29. Before each trek, a media release is distributed. This year the release was distributed through RSL Care SA. As a result, the Mt Barker Courier and the Islander will each publish an article about the trek and its impact on those attending.

30. No visitors attended the trek. The travelling time by road required for visitors to attend the trek is a challenge. Past visitors have reported they gained an enhanced understanding of the power of the program and the significant benefits gained by participants. Visitors will continue to be invited.

COSTS

31. The SA business community provided excellent support by way of consumables and food organized by Jackie McCandless who is a local Adelaide hills resident and Shane and Colin the trek chefs. Approximately $1060 worth of bread, eggs, and other meat items were donated. The donors will be acknowledged. The CFS Volunteer Association has promised $5,000 to help defray the attendance costs of firefighters.

VIABILITY
32. Sustainability of funding for the SA trek requires continual monitoring as SA funds are dependent on a number of irregular sources. Each October the Foundation raises funds through a major fundraising activity organized by Adelaide Exercise Physiology, the Veterans’ Support Walk. This year because of COVID this activity will be virtual. The success of this is not guaranteed and may affect future SA funding.

TREK DELIVERY

33. Participant numbers will continue to dictate the number and location of future treks offered. This will be assessed and adjusted as needed. The existence and efficacy of the trek anecdotally appears to be well known and understood among ex-service organizations (ESOs). However, minimum participant numbers are required for group dynamics and to establish the benefits of peer to peer support. To ensure participant numbers are met, the Foundation will continue to promote the trek through ESO networks, health providers and our best referral mechanism – word of mouth from past participants.

CONCLUSION

34. The isolation and serenity provided by the bush, and the live-in nature of the trek are powerful catalysts in conveying content with impact. The frank and disarming nature of trek staff creates an environment that facilitates honesty and openness from participants. This in turn aids self-management and recovery.

35. The role modeling exhibited by the trek staff, coupled with the credibility of being surrounded by others with similar lived experience allows participants to talk openly.  Commonly, a paradigm shift occurs over the duration of the trek. Participants recognize and acknowledge past thoughts and behaviors and how they have contributed to their present situation. They then develop a clear sense of hope and self-efficacy, as the realization that other ways of coping are possible and achievable as evidenced by past trekkers.

Moolooloo landscape

36. Sustained by the opinion of strong anecdotal evidence and the qualitative feedback from the journals, the trek achieved the objectives.  This was gained through the pursuit of the Foundation philosophy which is supported by the staff. The experience is intended as a circuit-breaker.  Following the trek, participants describe having a new understanding of their choices in thinking and behaviour, a shift in their worldview. From one of the journals,

Thanks, Moose, you have turned the light on I can see a better way of coping with my problems.  Trojan’s trek was the best thing I have ever done to help me with my problems with people that understand. “ 

37. As trekkers return to their daily routines, the challenge for them is to practice and consolidate the strategies learned within their existing support structures with the additional layer of support from past trekkers. They are provided with a “Trek Bible” which contains a brief on all the sessions covered during their time on the trek.  Feedback is positive.

38. The follow up support among trekkers is immediately evident by the setting up of closed pages of the trek’s social media accounts. This aspect of the experience is important if the impact of the trek is to be maximized.  This group established their own closed FB page.

39. The participants and staff believe that there is an ongoing role for programs of this nature for veterans (and others).  The principles may also be applied to other vocations. The trek is unique and may not suit every veteran, but it is a valuable and effective adjunct to other treatments. The efficacy of peer to peer programs is now well established in academic literature.

40. Further information about the Foundation and trek is available on the web site at www.trojanstrek.com

 

 

 

 

 

Moose Dunlop OAM
Operations Director
Trojan’s Trek Foundation
30 Sep 2020

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